Between touring with three bands and raising a family, Pete Donnelly has a lot on his plate. But the Philly-based singer-songwriter is also working on his second solo record, a new NRBQ record, an anthology for The Figgs, and has been recording and producing for other artists. Donnelly took time out of his busy schedule before his show tonight at World Cafe Live with The Chandler Travis Three-o to answer a few questions for The Key.
Donnelly grew up in a musical family. When asked how he got into playing music, he explained that his mother bought herself a piano when he was six years old and then his older brothers started coming home with guitars and drums. “It was all I wanted to do; I can’t really say why. Being the youngest, I probably wanted to be a part of what was going on with the older kids, but as soon as that piano came I was making stuff up.” Finally, at 13, his parents got him a bass and he’s been playing music ever since.
The Key: What did you grow up listening to?
Pete Donnelly: Around the house was the Beach Boys, the Beatles, lots of public radio too. The Indian music shows, world beat, minimalist, classical; all that public radio had to offer. Also, my brothers and I were into music early and started collecting metal, punk, real alternative stuff; SST, Twintone, Homestead Records bands. Then I started playing upright bass and listening to tons of jazz and rhythm and blues. Then 70’s, 80’s British music came into sight for me – Costello, Nick Lowe, etc.
TK: What was the first song you wrote?
PD: Something terrible I’m sure. The first good song I wrote was called “Down.” Such an original title…
TK: Where was your first live performance?
PD: Colonie Coliseum battle of the bands in 1986. I was in a band called ‘The Initials.’
TK: Do you have any formal musical training?
PD: I studied with Milt Hinton, the late great jazz bass player, and went to Skidmore College for three years [where I] almost completed a major in music.
TK: How did you get involved in the Philly music scene?
PD: I moved here in ’99. I knew two people in the business: one in booking and one in the studios. I figured that was a beginning and I took it from there.
TK: What are your main musical influences?
PD: Beach Boys, Lou Reed, Black Sabbath, Replacements, NRBQ, it goes on and on though…
TK: Tell us about your solo album and the recording process.
PD: I’d had an idea about staring a band in Philly for a while. A studio run by Henry Hirsch, one of the best living engineers, was built in Hudson, NY and Henry asked if I wanted to get in there for a trial run. This was my opportunity to jump start this project. I called Fred Berman and Adam Winokur and we cut a bunch of stuff together. Over the next two years I worked here and there on it finally finished in the end of 2011.
TK: How is working with The Figgs? NRBQ?
PD: The Figgs is more of my life than not, so it’s full of love and complication and all those things that go on in a family-like situation. We’re 25 years in, so the music has elevated way past all the B.S. of being young and insecure. When we’re playing music, a greater thing is happening. Playing with NRBQ; there’s a similar history with the band having been together for a long time. I’ve been playing in the Q for about three years. We’ve only done maybe fifty shows, but already this band has the elements of true camaraderie and a real connection. Terry Adams is a hero of mine, his playing and his presence will always challenge you to be exceptional.
TK: How did you start engineering and producing?
PD: I’ve been making records in one way or another since the late ’80s and I always had an interest in how it was done. I suppose I wanted to do it so [The Figgs] wouldn’t have to deal with an engineer telling us what we couldn’t do. It became something of real dedication to me as I began collecting gear and recording friends’ bands.
TK: What’s your take on the Philly music scene?
PD: Philly is a big city without the uber hustle of NYC. Tons of musicians, tons of bands, and a lot of diversity. I love the crossover in clubs like Tritone (RIP); this is what real fans love, we don’t need nights of music to homogenized into like-sounding artists. I see a great potential here for more diversity with different styles of artists playing together.
TK: What are some of your favorite Philly artists/bands?
PD: I feel as if I’m more outside than I’d certainly like to be. There are lots of great artists and bands right now. I’m often on the road or I’m raising my family and, for the time being, I’m mostly aware of who I’m interacting with. I love Jim Boggia, Ben Arnold, Carsie Blanton, G-Love, and Cowmuddy.
TK: Any projects/collaborations/recordings in the works?
PD: I just finished three great records by Philly artists Ryan Tennis, Muffinman, and Gifthorse. I’m also working on another Pete D record, Figgs anthology, and new NRBQ record.
TK: What can we expect from your show at World Café Live tonight?
PD: A rockin’ good time! I want to connect with people. Music is about all the ears, not just personal expression.
TK: What’s up next for Pete Donnelly?
PD: I’m looking to get the Pete D Combo out on the road. I’ve been playing mostly Philly with these guys trying to get the band sounding good. I think we are and it’s time we get out there.
Pete Donnelly is playing with The Chandler Travis Three-o tonight at World Cafe Live. The show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are available here for $12. Check out the official music video for Pete Donnelly’s song “Can’t Talk At All” below.
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